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A CurtainUp London Review
It is easy to see why Dromgoole selected Coriolanus. The visible, unavoidable audience who crowd the stage provide a perfect setting for a play about the interaction of the masses and the eminent few. Deconstructing the barrier between the players and the audience, the plebeian characters use the groundlings as an extension to the stage. They also seamlessly interweave the necessary theatrical announcements regarding mobile phones, photography and intervals with the Shakespearean text. Furthermore, Coriolanus' humiliating appeal to the people to guarantee his consulship is directed at individual audience members as much as at actors.
The brawny physique of Jonathan Cake is very well-suited to the part of the Achillean hero Coriolanus. In a fine performance of strong integrity, Cake recreates the role convincingly but perhaps not brilliantly. As the performance wore on he grew in stature. He was also very strong at portraying the ambivalence of a hero whose strength and military success spring from the very same characteristics as his tragically hubristic flaws. Working alone on the battlefield to stunningly heroic effect, his proud self-sufficiency also prevents him fawning upon the plebeians to secure political power.
Margot Leicester was excellent as Coriolanus' "Juno-like" mother Volumnia. Wielding ultimate sway over her otherwise unswayable son, she reduces the single-handed saviour of the Roman state to an adolescent boy, resentfully complying with his parent's demands.
The rest of the cast worked well on the problematic 17th century style stage. In particular, Mo Sesay was superb as Aufidius, Coriolanus' arch-enemy turned comrade and Jane Murphy as Coriolanus' wife Vergilia provided the only soft, feminine, if downtrodden, voice in this very masculine play. Also, the teenage school parties very much appreciated Joseph Marcell as Cominius, known to them from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air!
The director injects a fair amount of comedy which varies the tone without undermining the play's sincerity. Moreover, Coriolanus' bloody head wound and gruesomely covered sword presages an enjoyably gory Titus Andronicus. In all, it is difficult not to feel that this is a well-acted, decent production. However, running at just over three hours, the discomfort of the historically accurate theatre starts to affect the audience's concentration and enjoyment.
Dominic Dromgoole is a vastly-talented director and gets strong performances from his cast. Nevertheless, the Globe is a restrictive and challenging, although very special space. Hopefully, as the season wears on, he will adapt to the restrictions and challenges of this unique theatre and fulfil the promise hinted at with this inaugural production.
Editor's Note: For reviews of other productions of this play see our Shakespeare Quotations Page.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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